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I’m the son of two lawyers. My dad was the son of yet another lawyer, and my mother’s grandfather was a judge. I come from a long line of lawyers, judges, and smart people. Smart, in this case, because they chose stable careers with solid paychecks. I, on the other hand, am a moron. I’m a moron because, out of nowhere in a family of people who chose stable careers, I chose one of the most unreliable, unpredictable, and financially risky occupations in the world: an actor. And yes, all voice-over jobs are acting jobs as far as I’m concerned. It’s show biz, and it’s a business that doesn’t know much in the way of job security. Rather than making this story about me, though, I offer up two other people as perfect examples of the unpredictability of show biz. If you’ll permit me, let’s start by talking about a man by the name of David Prowse.
What can be said about this guy? Well, he was an Olympic champion in weightlifting, and the guy who trained Christopher Reeve to get into “Superman” shape. He also played one of the most famous characters in the history of cinema. Under most circumstances, I’d find some way to drop subtle hints as to which character it is, but to hell with it, the picture at the top of this blog entry kinda gives it away. Yeah, he played Darth Vader. “BUT NO–“….I can…hypothetically hear some of my hypothetical readers and listeners saying. “–JAMES EARL JONES PLAYED HIM!” Jones provided the voice, certainly, but he wasn’t the guy in the suit. Prowse, who was cast largely because most people had to break their necks in order to look up and make eye contact with him, actually said all of Darth Vader’s lines on set, but every single word he uttered ended up on the cutting room floor. George Lucas never intended to use Prowse’s on-set performance, but there were many people that he did not inform about that. “Many people,” in this case, included Prowse himself. You wanna know where he was when he found out that he was overdubbed?
In a movie theater, premiere night.
…Not quite what Prowse was hoping for. But hey, maybe he was treated better in the sequel, “The Empire Strikes Back”? Not really. He was forbidden from doing any of the lightsaber fight scenes because, when they filmed the lightsaber fight in the first movie, Prowse kept accidentally breaking the wooden lightsaber props that they were using to fight. So for all the fight scenes in the sequel, he was replaced by professional swordsman, Bob Anderson. It doesn’t end there, though. You wanna know where he was when he found out about the legendary “I am your father,” line?
In a movie theater, premiere night.
Lucas hardly told anyone about that line because he was determined to make sure that secret didn’t leak before the movie was released. Instead, Prowse was handed a fake script in which that iconic line was replaced with the line, “Obi-Wan killed your father.” A rather ingenious change considering that the rest of the script still works even with that change, but Prowse wasn’t as amused. So much so that, come “Return of the Jedi,” having been reduced to nothing but a guy who dressed up in a heavy suit and stood in front of a camera for hours on end, his heart (understandably) just wasn’t in it anymore. Rumor has it that he didn’t even say Darth Vader’s actual lines, and just kept making lewd jokes during his scenes, knowing that he would be overdubbed. That would be enough pain for one actor, but…you wanna know where he was when he found out that there was a scene where Darth Vader was unmasked?
In a movie theater, premiere night.
That’s not him when Darth Vader is unmasked at the end of the movie. That was actor Sebastian Shaw. Prowse has said that he regards “Return of the Jedi” as the worst filming experience he has ever had.
Jones, for his part, was not credited as the voice of Darth Vader until the third movie, when George Lucas insisted. Jones didn’t want to be credited, because he didn’t think he had done anything worth being credited for. Ya know, aside from the whole “providing the voice of one of the most memorable villains in cinematic history” thing, his efforts really were pretty negligible. At least that’s how he viewed it. He felt he was “special effects,” not a performance, because that’s the stance he took in a separate incident years prior. On that note, let’s talk about Mercedes McCambridge.
You know what she did, even if you don’t know it. You know that creepy voice that the little girl had in the movie, “The Exorcist,” when she was possessed by the demon? That was McCambridge, who overdubbed child actress Linda Blair. She swallowed raw eggs, smoked cigarettes non-stop, and drank excessive amounts of booze every day in order to capture the demonic voice and unpredictably savage nature of her character. A fake bed was also set up for her, and she was tied in restraints, so that she would feel like Linda Blair’s character, who was strapped to a bed for most of the movie. For her efforts–and utterly chilling performance–she was rewarded by being told after the fact that she was only “special effects.” She was not credited, and Linda Blair was nominated for an Oscar. Oh and by the way, you wanna know where McCambridge was when she found out she wasn’t credited?
Yup. In a movie theater. Premiere night.
SAG quickly came to her rescue and demanded that she be credited, and she was…but not as the voice of the demon. Not even to this day. Her name just appears on the credits.
This tremendously unreliable business is the business that anybody who wants to become a voice actor is voluntarily entering. It’s a tough one. One that doesn’t care if you invest tons of money. One that doesn’t care if you spend hours trying to find a way to improve your career. One that, to a degree, doesn’t really care if you’re talented or not. Even if you are immensely talented, you will probably find yourself struggling financially. If you are voluntarily deciding to go down this path, then…yeah, you’re a moron.
A moron like me.
I can’t not be an actor. I don’t find passion in anything else. I do my best to make a career out of acting, but it ain’t easy, and it never will be. I act because I love it, and don’t mind the (MANY) obstacles in the way of making money out of it.
For that matter, I don’t mean to sound depressing, or be a downer in writing this. VO, and acting, is a very fun thing! It’s just that the fun parts of this career are well-documented and well-known. The less exciting parts are kept on the down-low. Just know that this is what you’re getting into if you decide to pursue it. Only pursue it if you can stand the many challenges and don’t care. My response to all my challenges has been, and always will be, “Hmm…well, I guess I’ll have to step up my game a bit, now won’t I?” Hopefully, that’s you too. I’m proud to be a moron in that regard–this career may not be the smartest career to pursue, but it’s one that I have an unmitigated passion for. So, it is with a very sincere smile on my face that I say, from one moron to all the other morons out there, know that I’m rooting for your success, and congratulate you for following your passion! 😀
PS: For those interested, here are two short videos, both of which act as “before and after” videos of sorts to show how Darth Vader and the demon sounded before and after the dubbing process. For the sake of coherence, the first one is about Vader, and the second is about the demon.